The ground was cracking from dryness. Leaves were fading. Animals were parched. The drought was severe, and the local townspeople were very concerned.
Sincere and G-d fearing, they made a spiritual accounting, and declared a communal fast day (Jewish tradition and law state that a communal fast should be declared in times of serious drought.)
Nothing helped. The produce was drying up, animals were dying and not a single cloud could be spotted in the sky.
People began to wonder if, perhaps, they were to face a bitter end of starvation. So they invited a well-known and respected maggid (preacher) to share gems of inspiration with them during these challenging times.
Standing in the center of the synagogue, his face burning, the maggid launched fury and vitriol towards the crowd.
“You are all wicked!” he shouted. “Your sins have separated you from G-d! Do you truly think that there is no Judge and no judgement?! Thank G-d that you are suffering! May it cause you to return to Him with complete repentance!”
Men, women and children heard the maggid’s words and cried bitter tears.
Suddenly, a young man stood up in the crowd. “What do you have against all of us?” he questioned the maggid. “Why are you making our pain even greater?”
The maggid stared at this young man, who was dressed as a peasant.
Undeterred by the harsh stare of the maggid, the young man addressed the people in the synagogue: “My fellow Yidden! Stop crying — let’s dance and it will rain soon enough!”
The simple people in the synagogue weren’t sure what to make of this. Who is this man? Where did he come from? Is he, perhaps, crazy? How can we ignore the words of the respected maggid?
As if sensing their questions, the young man began quoting our sages in support of his seemingly wild statement. His sincere words penetrated everyone’s hearts, and they began to dance.
As they danced, the heavens opened up, and it began pouring rain.
“May it be His will that from this point forward, you will experience only satisfaction and joy!” declared the mysterious man. People realized that this man was no regular peasant, and that he must be one of the hidden righteous.
When the rain tapered off, the man left the village and continued his wandering. Wherever he visited, he would ignite the latent spark within everyone’s heart.
Who was this young man with a beaming face and peasant’s clothes?
It was Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, known as the Baal Shem Tov, before he became known to the world.
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What is the message of this story? Perhaps one message is the power of joy. As our sages say, “Joy breaks through all barriers.” May we all merit to be truly joyous, and may this break through any barriers we have in our lives!